Chapter 33: Naked

“This is absurd!” Arcade roars, slamming one of his fists down on the desk in front of him. Actually, “roars” is probably a bit of an exaggeration; his strange, pinched, nasal voice is incapable of roaring; instead it’s a kind of distorted yelp. Dandruff falls out of his hair as he shakes his head at the phone. “You can’t just, you can’t just leave me here alone!”

“You’re not alone, Arcade,” my father says on the speaker phone. “You have Jesus to guide you.” His voice is, as always, chummy, sweet and friendly; the uncle you always wanted.

But never the father.

“Jesus?” Arcade splutters, stalking around the control-room of the ware-house. Out in the main area, another one of the nightmare machines we found in the White Rabbit’s house looms eerily under the fluorescent lights. Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man, is unconscious in the next room; we saw him on our way in. He was strapped down tight, with three technicians in hazard suits working on him; they had a spot sitting on the back of his head, and, working together, they were stretching it tight like an undersized shower cap.

“JESUS!” Arcade screams. My father lets a little chuckle slide through.

“Arcade, it’s just the Shocker, and there’s not even any guarantee he knows where you are.”

I should mention, at this point, for ironic effect, that I am standing less than five feet from Arcade.

“I don’t care about a damn guarantee! Ever since that piss-and-shit-colored nutjob hit Hammerhead, I’ve been sitting on pins and needles, looking over my shoulder every ten seconds thinking I’m going to see pineapple man sneaking up behind me!”

Piss-and-shit colored. Pineapple man.

Arcade is digging himself in deeper and deeper.

“The least you government buffoons could do is send me a guard, send me anyone but these low-rent Mafia goons you’ve got guarding me now! Anyone could just walk in here and —”

I flip the toggle marked CRIMSON on Reed’s device, and Arcade’s voice gradually slows down and then stops completely.

Marty goes visible, the Crimson Dynamo in full glory, and Arcade stops dead in the middle of his sentence, and turns to go for the door; Aleksei goes visible.

The door is no longer an option.

Arcade stands there looking from Aleksei to Marty and back, his face frozen in this kind of “DAMN IT TO HELL” grimace. I touch him on the shoulder, and he turns; the reaction has come full circle now.

He actually gasps as I go visible.

“You …” he whispers. “Oh … oh, dear.”

“Arcade?” my father says over the phone. I shove him back into his desk chair, and it rolls back a little on his impact. “Arcade, you still there?” I start to reach for the receiver, but then think better of it. “Oh, I understand,” my father says, a laugh in his voice. “Herman! Herman, you there, boy?”

“Yeah, I’m here you son of a bitch.” I spit it out, and then immediately regret it. My father laughs again, and I can feel him shaking his head in mild irritation.

“Didn’t come alone I assume. Who else is hanging around? Your big dumb bulldozer, of course.”

“That’s me!” Aleksei says proudly. Oy.

“Hello, dear,” my father says, and Aleksei frowns at the phone, and I can see the gears in his head working: he knows my dad is the bad guy, BUT HE SOUNDS SO NICE! Shit like this won’t fool Aleksei; he’s not that dumb. But it certainly does put him off a little. “And who else?” my father continues. “The monkey, of course.”

“Of course,” Marty says, grinning a somewhat psychotic sapien grin at Arcade. “You and I need to have a talk, Adrian.”

The first name catches my father off-guard; it’s almost imperceptible, but a son sees these things. Score ten points for the Crimson Dynamo.

“Sure thing, Marty, sure thing. Who else … I don’t suppose Felicia’s there, is she?”

Felicia prowls up out of the darkness; this little invisible thing Reed has going is a hell of a neat trick. She starts to speak, but I raise a hand, and she stops. Let’s see how well he’s got us covered; if he’s watching, I’d like to know.

“No, pops, Felicia couldn’t make it.”

Then he says something that makes my brain stop.

“Ah, off doing something. Parker I suppose.”

I reflexively spit out a single word.


“Parker. Her boyfriend. You know Peter Parker, don’t you, Herman? Peter Parker? The amazing, spectacular, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?”

Time. Stops.

Pedarman, Felicia said when she woke up. Said it again when she came in the room and saw him there. I heard, I remember just before I met Peter, I heard the thwip on the docks. There’s more, and more, and it all … It all adds up so cleanly.

So cleanly.

It all adds up so cleanly.


Peter Parker.


Peter Parker.

My mind isn’t vibrating. It’s rattling.

My head sort of twitches to the left, out of my control, and see Felicia looking like she’s just watched an orphanage collapse. I twitch right and see Aleksei blinking, no, twitching.

“Peter Parker, that … that jerk-off, that stupid asshole, that lying son of a bitch!” Aleksei says; this is some of the worst language I’ve ever heard him use. He lets out a roar, a real old-fashioned Aleksei rage scream, and smashes his hand through Arcade’s desk, then punches through a file cabinet.

In the next room, I heard the thugs mobilize; we’d been keeping it cool up until now, but the temperature just went up. Way up.

That jerk-off.

That stupid asshole.

That lying, lying, LYING son of a bitch!

“Who’s Peter Parker?” Marty says. “That teacher guy? What’s he —”

Aleksei howls and tears through the wall, plaster and industrial wiring coming apart like butter under his breadloaf-fingers.

“Peter, you big liar! You jerk! You trick … trick man!” Aleksei crashes into the main body of the warehouse. That liar. That evil fuck. That treacherous fucking bastard, I’ll —

“Herman —” Felicia says, grabbing my arm. Without thinking, I swat her across the face and shove her backwards into the wall.

“Don’t fucking touch me, you lying bitch!” I scream at her. “YOU KNEW!” I say, pointing at her and charging a gauntlet. “You were laughing at me the whole time, you and him, laughing at me!”

It’s like my whole body is on autopilot, but autopilot is broken. I can hear my father laughing on the speaker phone. The laughter is a shrieking, screeching sound in my ears. He knew I was with Parker. He knew this whole time. Felicia knew this whole time. And Reed, he must’ve known, too. Everybody knew. Everybody was laughing. They all think I’m some kind of fucking joke, ever since I was a kid, everybody laughing, making jokes, well it’s not so funny now, is it, you sons of bitches, is it?”

“Herman,” Felicia says. “Just please —”

I level-three her into the wall.

Bam. She drops like a rock.

Everybody is a fucking lie.

“Rhino,” I scream to Aleksei in the next room. “Destroy everything! Everything!”

An affirmation comes in the form of a roar, and I hear things breaking and people screaming in the next room. Good. Crush them, smash them, I don’t care, Aleksei, what you leave I’ll finish off. I’ve never seen a level five hit someone with open wounds before; it’ll probably shake their muscles clean out of the cuts.

“Gibbon,” I say, shaking with anger, pointing at Arcade, who’s struggling in Marty’s arms. “Fry his ass!”

“Uh … no?” Marty says, shoving Arcade face-down into the wreckage of his desk. “Herman, what the hell is going on, what’s wrong with you? You’re acting crazy —”

“I’m not FUCKING CRAZY!” I shriek at him; how dare he fucking challenge me, laughing at me like the rest of them. I blast him with dual level fours; the Dynamo suit takes the brunt of the impacts, but the force carries him through the wall and out onto the street; cars swerve in all direction, crashing into storefronts, wrecking their way into hot dog carts and newsstands.

Arcade, in the meantime, has pulled himself to his feet.

“Schultz, help! Creel!” he screams. “Let someone take control of Creel! Save me!”

There’s another crash from the warehouse room, and I watch as Felicia struggles to her feet. She moans.

“Herman, I understand —”

scream at her. “STAY DOWN! I WILL FUCKING SHAKE YOU AGAIN! YOU STAY THE FUCK DOWN, WHORE!” It’s now, and only now, that I realize I’m crying under the mask. I grab Arcade as he tries to run out of the room, and then slam him up against the wall, pulling out my father’s blue switchblade, vibing it on a level four. “I’m going to cut you now, Arcade!”

“No! Oh, sweet Christ no, stay away from me! Someone! Anyone, help me!”

“I’m going to cut your face off now.” I shove the vibrating blade up inches from the side of his neck. “I’m going to cut your face off and make you watch. I’m —”

Aleksei comes smashing through the wall; he lands on his back, bam. He’s got a bloody nose. Now they’ve hurt Aleksei. Now they’ve really done it.

I make one quick cut across Arcade’s face, through his cheeks; his jaw drops open, the muscles cut. He lets out a wide-mouthed shriek, and blood sprays everywhere, so I turn him around and smash his head into the wall. He slumps down, unconscious, blood spreading out over his white suit.

“Rhino,” I say, walking towards him.

“Herman, he hit me,” Aleksei says, dazed as he stands up. There’s a familiar laugh from the next room.

But that’s impossible. It can’t be possible. It’s impossible, it’s …

“Herman my boy, you seem to have lost your temper,” my father says, stepping through the hole in the wall.

But it’s not my father.

Carl “Crusher” Creel; the Absorbing Man.

Remember maybe a hundred pages back I was telling you about villains who’ve got these amazing, world-bending powers and they just use the same three tricks again and again, never trying to really, you know, explore their abilities?

Creel is one of these guys.

The worst part about Carl is that he’s not a half-bad guy; drugged up to the eyeballs on pain-pills half the time, but very careful about the innocent bystanders, and never really for himself, not like the other psychos with incredible power like Dillon or Bench; they’re sadists, killers. But Carl is just muscle.

He had a thing going with Mary McPherran, “Titania” to you; they even got married, but that all fell apart after a while. His powers, in the meantime, just seemed to grow; he’s got the ability to turn into anything he touches.

Think about that for a moment.

Anything this guy touches, he turns into, absorbing its strength, its mass, its density, sometimes even its size. Creel can do it with people, too; in that respect, he’s kind of got a half-ass version of that little skunk-haired minx from the X-Men. Except I hear she can’t touch anything without absorbing it, so I guess Creel got off easy. He carries this big ball-and-chain around with him that does basically the same thing; it’s a mystical gimmick, the kind that lets you go toe-to-toe with the big boys like Thor and the Hulk.

But he’s always been too stupid to use it to any great effect.

My father, however, is not stupid at all.

“Herman,” he says, snapping Creel’s big, thick fingers. “Eyes up. I think you’ve lost yourself in your anger.” He steps forward; Creel’s huge, shirtless body, moves with that easy swagger so familiar from my childhood. “Aw, look at poor Felicia,” he says, waving a hand at Felicia’s tight little form, curled up, half-vomiting on the floor.

Jesus Christ.

What’ve I done?


My father yanks Creel’s massive ball and chain into the room and smashes me with it, driving me into the warehouse. The suit takes the impact easily, and I roll twice before I grind a heel into the ground and spring to my feet. Creel, guided by my father, leaps out the hole I made in the wall and disappears into the city, the wrecking-ball melting into his leg. Never seen that trick before.

Superhero logic would dictate that I go after him; run down the villain, follow him to my archnemesis and proceed with the final showdown.

But I’m not a superhero. I know that now. I just violently struck down the woman I think I love and blasted one of my only friends through a wall.

Idiot. Creep. Scumbag.

Who am I kidding, I don’t know what love is, I don’t know what it means to be someone’s friend; all I know are vibrations, and those are all I need, all I’ll ever need, because criminal deviant fucks like me always die alone.

But I can do one thing. I can do one, glorious thing for everyone to remember.

I flip open my phone and dial Peter’s number.


“Yeah, Herman, what’s up? I heard from Reed that you —”

“Peter, I need to see you, I need to see you right away; things here spun out of control. They got Felicia; I don’t know where they took her, and they … They got Marty, too, and I can’t even find Aleksei; things went to shit, Peter. I need your help.”

“All right, where are you, I’ll be there in ten minutes.” His voice isn’t Spider-Man or Peter Parker; it’s the person that lives underneath; a person stronger than either of them, more capable, more REAL. The sort of person I’m not.

“Meet me at the hamburger joint on Third and Highland; no costumes, I’m trying to lie low.” My voice is a picture of amicable desperation, a friend in dire need trying not to outright beg for help. And Peter, being the good guy he is, is eating it up like candy.

I close the phone and wander through the warehouse; Aleksei is only just now getting up, rubbing his head.

“Herman, what’s —”

“Stay here, Aleksei.”

“Herman, I —”

I put a finger in his face, startling him.

“You stay here.”

Aleksei looks sad; I don’t deserve his friendship.

Ten minutes later I’m looking at Peter as he sits waiting for me in Maude’s Big’N’Beefy. I’m across the street, in an alley, classic old-school super-villain style. He looks nervous. He looks ready. That line about Felicia really caught his attention; I suppose the “spider-sense” can’t detect lies. And it’s not even telling him I’m watching him. Or is it? He’s a liar, a born liar; he knows how to pretend. So why take risks?

I start level 3ing the living hell out of the place.

I think he started to stand up just before the first vibes hit, but it was pointless; he had nowhere to go, and without that stupid costume of his, he couldn’t pull anything flashy. So that’s the first step, step one of three for the simple strategy I’ve always had if I could ever figure out just who Spider-Man was: catch him off guard, out of costume, in public.

Maude’s Big’N’Beefy starts coming apart like it’s made of frosted flakes, millions of tiny pieces spraying in all directions; pedestrians scatter; some of them are caught in the blasts and thrown violently aside. I walk across the street, still in full costume, blasting away, keeping my eyes locked on Peter as he’s bounced backwards through the restaurant, smashing through the Fifties art-deco furniture like a bowling ball.

I step through the destroyed part of the restaurant, picking up a stray salt shaker as I go and yanking off the cap.

“All of you,” I say, waving a gauntlet at the terrified customers. “GET THE FUCK OUT!”

They do as they’re told. Smart folks.

Peter is shakily standing up over by the bar; I must’ve hit him eight or nine times.

So that settles it. Parker is Spider-Man. Spider-Man is Parker. No normal human could stand after eight or nine level threes; they’d be lucky to be alive at all.

I walk purposefully over to him, grab a handful of his hair and try to smash his face into my knee.

He throws his forearms up and blocks my leg. Classic Spider-Man move; blocking before you even knew you were going to attack. But poor Peter, listening to his Spider-sense, stops the knee but never sees the salt coming; I jerk the shaker right into his face, and the white grains spray into his eyes, nose and mouth.

Step Two: Fight as dirty as possible.

“Agk!” he says, and tries to kick me away; it’s a blind kick, though, and wild, easy to dodge. I snatch a fork off the bar and stab it into his leg, vibrating it on a level five; it slides through his flesh like butter, and he yanks his hurt leg back close to his body. I attempt to punch him in the face; he dodges, sending him forward right into my foot, which kicks him square in the balls. He makes this wonderful exhale sound, like “oog,” that I will treasure forever.

I grab him by the seat of his pants and the collar of his shirt and throw him over the counter, into the kitchen; he starts to stand up, but I vibro-punch him in the side of the head and he falls down onto his hands and knees, so I just start kicking the bastard in the ribs until something over to my right catches my eye.

I grab the French fry tray out of the grease fryer and dump the bubbling oil onto the back of his head; Parker screams and clutches at the sizzling skin on the nape of his neck.

“WHERE’S YOUR GODDAMN JOKES NOW, SPIDERMAN!” I scream, spit flying from my mouth inside the mask, hoarse, the voice of a madman. “WHY CAN’T I HEAR YOU LAUGHING?”

He raises an arm at me, and I sidestep a jet of webbing, grabbing a pan of frying eggs and bashing his hand as hard as I can. He grunts and jerks the arm back close to his body, giving me a beautiful opportunity to kick his prone, stupid, evil self square in the face; so I do.

“Herman …” he moans when the dizzies from the kick wear off. “Herman, this is ridiculous. This is stupid, stop before I have to —” It’s the “before I have to” that sets me off. Something about the idea that he’s been going “easy” on me when his retarded arachnid ass is near to laid out on the dirty floor of a cut-rate diner. That stupid smugness that never goes away, that fake-humble-but-still-better-than-you-poor-stupid-super-villain thing.

“BEFORE YOU HAVE TO WHAT, SPIDERMAN?” I shriek, and vibro-punch him in the spine, knocking him flat on his stomach. “Before you have to DIE, because that’s what’s happening now, you know that, don’t you? You’re dying here, in this shitty little place, without your stupid spandex, without your friends, because you —”

I’m not quite sure how he got up that fast, but he did. I don’t feel the punch, really, not at first; I’m just suddenly flying through the air, and then BANG, head-first into the soft serve ice-cream dispenser. It explodes, a tidal flow of vanilla soft serve flooding out onto me. I shake my head violently, trying to get all the vanilla off my eye-lenses, and see him running towards me through the kitchen, tearing his shirt open as he goes, revealing that goddamn red and blue underneath.

Things are about to get serious, and, for the first time, I realize that I might end up back in jail.


Not happening.

Not an option.

It’s my sanity or his life.

And I value my fucking sanity.

The Spider dies today.

Parker lunges at me, yanking on the mask as he does so, and connects with a series of punches that function exactly as they were intended to, that is, they knock me backwards. He shoves me over onto a stove and tries to web me up to it; if he can get the webs attached to the stove instead of me, he can probably jack up the heat and damage my costume, if only a little.

And that would be the end.

But not here. Not now.

I roll off the stove and grab a bubbling pot full of … something, and hurl it straight down onto him.

Turns out it was hotdogs.

I hear him scream, and it feels good, it feels like everything is going really well, and then this red boot comes out of nowhere and he’s on the offensive again, punching, kicking, wild; he’s focusing his blows on my gauntlets; smart fighting, as usual: my gauntlets are the only part of me not covered by my suit.

No! It was another fucking distraction so that he could web my eyes; I vibe it off quick, but he’s already gone, and then BAM, dropkicked from behind. I flip through the air and hit a wall way too hard, the suit not taking a damn bit of it.

The fight is over, and Peter knows it.

“I don’t know why you did this, Herman …” he says, unable to mask the pain in his voice. “I thought you were —”

“Step Three,” I say, still out of breath from the impact against the wall, and then hurl myself up onto him, wrapping my arms over his, a kind of bear-hug, pressing my fists against one another. “Overload the gauntlets.”

I flip off the gauntlets’ power modulators and fire dual level 5s; each level five travels about an inch before it hits the gauntlet opposite from the one of its origin, and there’s a strange sound.

“What did you —” Peter shouts, but whatever else he says is lost as the fabric of reality around us starts shaking.


I remember back when I was building these things, trying to explain to myself how exactly they worked, how they sustained the quantum reaction that allowed for the vibrations.

And then everything shakes apart.

When I finally manage to open my eyes and stand up, it’s nearly six minutes later, and the entire diner has come down on top of us, so I’m now effectively standing outside. The thing is, there’s no rubble; just an enormous mound of multicolored (but mostly gray) powder. Indeed, even the ground I’m standing on is made of billions of individual grains; a sand of dirt, asphalt and concrete. The effect gravitates out in all directions for about thirty yards.

The gauntlets are just twisted hunks of metal; I slide them off and let them fall with soft thuds into the granulated earth. I pull off my mask, and stare at in my hands. What is this? What does this mean?

An odd silence has fallen over the block; people are still everywhere, but they’re just staring now, silent. Whatever just happened, it must’ve been a pretty fucking impressive visual. It looks like no one was caught in the blast, and I surprise the hell out of myself by feeling an immediate and overwhelming sense of relief. As I turn to look around, a few layers of my costume simply fall away into yellow and brown powder; it even tears in a few places.

He lies completely still, limbs splayed at awkward and broken angles, his body bent into a near fetal position: the Amazing Spider-Man.

I grab him by the neck with both hands, and as I lift him onto his knees his costume falls away into blue and red dust.

So here we are; me, disoriented but still filled with hate, my costume torn and my gauntlets destroyed, tears streaking down my cheeks. And him, his body twisted and his bones broken, bleeding in some places, already swelling and turning black, purple and red in others, naked as the day he was born.

I feel his adam’s apple move under my thumb, and draw out my father’s blue switchblade.

I look around again, taking in the sun, the easy heat of an early summer New York Tuesday, a small breeze coming in from the North, bringing with it the cool mist of the nearby ocean. I press the trigger button, and the blade flips out, catching the sunlight. I look at it for a second, and then, holding Peter Parker up in a slumped sitting position with my left hand, I put the knife in my right, and press the edge against his throat.

“Time to die, Peter. No one to save you now,” I say, my voice shaking a little with rage. “It’s over now. You’re done.” I press the blade in harder, cutting through the skin but not into the throat, and a little bit of blood leaks out over the knife, dripping down onto my fingers.

His life is less than one millimeter away from being over. Nothing could save him, nothing. No one could jump up and take me out, no one could teleport me away, nothing could get rid of me without me first getting rid of him.

I’m going to kill him, and there’s nothing anyone can do.

This is it.

I won. I won, definitively, I won.

I beat Spider-Man. I beat Peter Parker, and I did it without magic, or powers, or any help at all. I did it myself. And it only took ten minutes.

He’s helpless now.

I won.

I … won?

The word is suddenly meaningless.

Time stops again.

I feel my hand open on my father’s knife, and watch as it falls out of my fingers. It tips end over end and then lands in the dust that used to be the tile floor of the kitchen. I fall down to my knees, wrapping my arms around Parker’s limp form, sobbing tearless sobs.

I see them floating in the air around me; the Living Tribunal, Uatu the Watcher and the In-Betweener. They’d been here the whole time, invisible to me but probably not to anyone else; that must’ve been one of the reasons the bystanders were so shitcanned quiet.

The In-Betweener vanishes, and then the Living Tribunal, but Uatu stays for a moment, and nods at me, the faintest trace of a smile touching the side of his mouth, before he, too, disappears into nothing.

I see dozens of cop cars and SWAT vehicles racing up the street. I see the Fantasti-Car zooming in, Johnny Storm flying alongside it. Iron Man lands to my left and easily shoves me face-down into the powder, wrenching my hands behind my back, shouting in my ear. I don’t hear any of it though. In my head, I’m writing a letter.

Dear Daddy,

I’ve taken out Bullseye. I fought off over a hundred men. I just now took out Spider-Man. And as soon as I get out of this, and oh, I WILL get out of this, I’m coming for YOU.

Love, Herman.


Previous Part               Chapter Index               Next Part